Gateways of knowledge

A library is more than a house of books. Look beyond the traditional literary box and you’ll see the true treasure these whimsical magical places hold.

‘Libraries don’t just provide all the residents of a country, even visitors to a country, with opportunities for lifelong learning,’ said Shirley Wahler, chief education officer at the Department of Education.

George Town Library

Enjoying the newly revamped and open George Town Library are, from left, Shirley Wahler, chief education officer at the Department of Education; Mary Rodrigues, permanent secretary and chief officer in the Ministry of Education; Maples Partner Andrew Reid; Minister for Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports and Culture Rolston Anglin; and Maples Partner Dale Crowley. Photo: Stephen Clarke

‘The introduction of free public libraries is one of the biggest movements forward in allowing people of all social groups, of all backgrounds to access the full range of human knowledge.’

As an educator, mother – and for the time being – the person in charge of strategic oversight at both George Town and West Bay libraries, no one knows the impact these two renovated facilities have had on the community better then Mrs. Wahler.

She’s more than happy to share the success stories of how, in just a few months, the libraries have grown into well-respected institutions that are helping shape young and older minds daily.

‘There are a lot more users in the library. I’ve been in the library between the hours of four and six three times in the last seven and eight days and every time nearly every seat has been filled on the children’s floor and adults’ floor,’ said Mrs. Wahler.

Take a look inside

There are a lot of reasons for this sudden influx of patrons and they can all be easily seen as soon as you open the front doors.

Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, the same can be said about a library.

You have to go inside, explore, take in the smells and sounds before really knowing if this is the right one for you, so a lot of work has gone into making both attractive to people of all ages.

Enormously inviting spaces filled with bright colours, vast arrays of books, and computers have made going to the library and reading cool and acceptable.

The proof is in the faces of the boys and girls who flock to the children’s rooms. Mrs. Wahler says the kids in these rooms sometimes sit two to three on a chair sharing a book.

One of her favourite stories she loves to tell is how Sir John A. Cumber primary students would line up outside the West Bay library weeks before it opened to the public.

‘At three o’clock every day you would see two or three dozen children with their hands and faces pressed against the door. So every day we had smudges on the door from not much higher than knee high on me to almost shoulder high. Where all those faces had been, you could see the nose prints on the door because it’s such an interesting space. There’s a giant boat in the middle, it’s all a nautical theme and the kids just wanted to get in,’ she said.

Mrs. Wahler admits that in a world where libraries are competing with video games and thousands of other diversions, you need more than interesting spaces to capture and retain the attention of the public, especially older children.

The age of digital learning

A huge selling point in the public libraries is access to the computers.

Students of all ages have made Cayman’s public libraries a common stomping ground after school to get their homework done, but it goes beyond that, says Mrs. Wahler.

Libraries around the world have made it their mission to build digital literacy by providing free access to the Internet and printers to everyone.

The facilities in Cayman give students an opportunity to research homework projects, get information about other interests they may have and learn more about what’s going on in the world; all while expanding their literary and digital knowledge.

What’s Next

Mrs. Wahler says there are future plans to develop more digital resources, giving library patrons easier access to online periodicals, encyclopaedias and other journals.

In just a matter of weeks, an online automation system will be launched. This will allow library patrons to check their accounts online, reserve a book and find out which branch has a particular book they are looking for all from the convenience of home.

Mrs. Wahler is proud of the quantity, quality and diversity of books at the libraries, saying library-goers won’t have any trouble finding what they are looking for, whether it’s the latest best seller, or a classic, or non-fiction novel; all genres are available.

She’s hoping that everyone will be able to start enjoying all those books and additional services for longer periods of time during the week.

‘The community is crying out for extended library hours. People are very anxious to see us move to evening hours, particularly in George Town,’ she said.

Mrs. Wahler says the biggest challenge is the economic crisis. Her staff is evaluating the situation carefully and the Minister of Education has expressed publically that keeping the libraries open later is under consideration.

FYI

For now, the hours of operation are:

GT & WB

10am to 6pm Monday through Friday/10am to 2pm Saturday

District branches:

10am to 6pm Monday through Thursday

10am to 1pm Saturday

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